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Familiar Ingredients Possess New Dimensions at Primavera Restaurant

If you were raised in a Portuguese family in Ludlow (as 25 percent of the town's residents were), you've probably been to Primavera. If you weren't, you probably haven't. My server was surprised when I asked for some help deciding what to order: "Oh! You've never been here before?" I guess she doesn't see newcomers very often.Primavera is a real locals' joint, serving traditional homestyle Portuguese specialties with an emphasis on seafood. Throughout the evening I was there, four men, including owner J. Rocha Nuno, sat perched on stools at the small bar, having drinks and watching Portuguese-language television while the women cooked and served the food. The interior of the restaurant replicates the Mediterranean style of building, with white stucco and terra cotta roof tiles, that's common in Portugal. Blue-and-white painted dishes and azulejos, Portuguese glazed tiles, hang on the walls as the only decoration. A mock door frame labeled "adega," or wine cellar, reminded me that vinho verde, a style of wine made from a blend of grapes picked early and drunk young, or "green," is unique to northern Portugal. It also happens to be one of the most inexpensive wines on the market (bottles often retail for around $5) and a lovely summer aperitif. Both red and white vinho verde are popular in Portugal, but only white is generally available in this country. We slurped up a crisp and fruity Quinta da Aveleda that was slightly effervescent and a perfect accompaniment to the Pasteis de Bacalhau, or salt cod cakes. Whipped with potato, seasoned with parsley and expertly fried, the cod quenelles were delicate and creamy--hardly fishy at all. Camarão a Casa, homestyle spicy shrimp, were a tad overcooked but swimming in a delicious beer-infused sauce with tangy lemon and a hot sauce kick. I happily mopped up my plate with bread from Ludlow Central Bakery, across the street. Every day, one or two dishes from the daily specials page of the menu are offered for a dollar off the usual price. Arroz de Tamboril is similar to paella, with tender, mild pieces of monkfish and clams cooked with rice in a tomato-based broth with fragrant cilantro. The generous portion is served family style in a casserole with a lid, where it stays piping hot throughout repeated helpings. Javalie is a flavorful thin cut of pork marinated in wine and seasonings and cooked on the grill, like many of the meat and seafood options at Primavera. It came with homemade fried potatoes, thick-cut potato chips that were no longer hot and crispy, and plain steamed broccoli florets. The signature house dessert is Bolo de Bolacha, coffee-soaked Maria crackers layered with custard and whipped cream and topped with almonds--rather like a Portuguese version of tiramisu. Primavera also offers standards like chocolate mousse and flan. Finish up with a Galão, a coffee with steamed milk. Next time I come to Primavera I look forward to trying the house-made "flaming" hot sausage, Chouria Assada, and some of the other salt cod and seafood specialties like Bacalhau a Marinheiro and Mariscada. Even if you're not familiar with Portuguese cuisine, nothing on the menu is all that foreign. Although the ingredients aren't uncommon, Primavera's Portuguese specialties possess dimensions that are interesting and different. Our server best summed it up in her explanation of why she loves Portuguese food: "It's got flavor."

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